Interview: Holly Elle!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Elle, a Canadian musician who launched her career in Nashville, Tennessee. Her EP Leopardess showcases her powerful voice and strong songwriting ability. She is able to connect with audiences through well-crafted songs infused with honesty. In her song “Freak,” she sends a strong message of inclusion that has resonated with LGBT audiences. She also incorporates humor in her work, as can be seen in the revenge fantasy video for the song “Seeing Red.” You can find more information about Holly Elle at her website. You can also listen to her new single, “Lifeline,” below.

In our interview, Holly Elle discussed her personal journey, the story behind Leopardess, her experience performing at Atlanta Pride, and the power of music as a tool for social justice.

Please describe your trajectory to becoming a musician.

That has the potential to be a very long story. I’ll start by saying I have always been a musician. Your calling in life, that thing that you feel like you have to do – you are already that thing – regardless of whether you are paid for it or even recognized for it. That’s my philosophical answer. When was I good enough at it to pursue it as a full-time career? In 2009, after I was finished school I decided to put all of my energy into making it work as a career.

How does being from a small town near Calgary influence the music that you make?

Every single part of who I am and where I have been influences my music. More specifically though, I grew up in the country, so until I could drive I couldn’t really go that far, physically. So I learned to make my own fun. It fed my imagination.

In what ways has being in Nashville affected your creative process?

When I first moved here I tried for a bit to “fit in.” I did some country shows in cowboy boots and then I was like “what am I doing?” I realized I could still be me here.

It has been interesting to learn how songwriting and business operate differently in country music, and how in many ways all music is the same. It’s been a learning experience.

Most importantly, I love Nashville and feel like it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be right now, so that has done wonders for my creative process.

Who and what have been other influences?

I have been influenced by many genres of music over vast periods of time, too many to name. From Broadway to Britpop, Country to Opera, Disco to Dance, you name it. My favorite and biggest influences are The Beatles, Mariah Carey, and my family.

You have said, “The whole point of making music is for me to connect.” Indeed, your songs seem to be conversations with audiences. How are you able to create that dialogue?

I think the point of life is to connect, so the work that anyone does, no matter what it is, is important to that end. I do it by being completely honest. Whatever I’m feeling in my life comes through in my writing. Sometimes very deliberately, sometimes I have absolutely no clue how something came out of me. But you can always bet there’s someone else out there that feels the same way.

How are your personal and social identities influential to your art?

My personal journey absolutely informs my art. The fact that I am speaking from my own unique vantage point as a human being, makes my voice special. The best part is that that’s true for everyone. We all have a special unique voice we can create with.
Man you guys are really bringing out the Buddha in me. If you want to take it there, let’s get deep…

Another theme important to you is “no Labels, no rules, no limits.” What does this mean for you stylistically?

It’s just a catchy motto to sum up a much greater philosophy, which is my personal philosophy of life. As a pop artist I like to take more complicated sentiments and make them simplified and universal, and therefore accessible to everyone. To me, if I can just remember these 3 things as I go through life and make decisions, I’ll be cool. Want an even simpler one? “All you need is love” (but that one was already taken).

How do you incorporate your formal music training with creative instincts?

I let it all go, one hundred percent. I trust that it will be there for me as a tool when I need it, but I never even think about it. I have learned that the less thinking I do the better, when it comes to letting creativity flow.

Holly Elle

Your song and video “Freak” have spoken to LGBTQ+ people in particular. How do you see music having a social justice function?

Music can change the world. That’s already been proven. It’s a powerful force that can express where we’ve been, what we’re going through, and where we’re going. It brings people together, it moves us, and people who are united in a cause they feel strongly about can do anything.

What was it like performing at Atlanta Pride?

It was fun and exciting, and it was an honor. I’ve performed to audiences who get it, and audiences who don’t. When they get it, it’s a nice feeling. They got it.

In what ways is your music feminist?

Hmm I don’t know about this word “feminist”, it’s not my favorite. Along the way it’s picked up some unintended connotations. Do I believe women are powerful and equal and independent? Yes. That’s what being a Leopardess is all about. When I wrote that EP I had finally discovered my full power as a woman. Now I want to go on to find even more power as a person. I’m thinking about uniting rather than dividing. Woman vs. man? Is that even an issue anymore? It’s not on my radar.

I am enjoying your latest EP, “Leopardess.” How did you develop the title?

Thank you! I’m kind of a word nerd. I love words and I like to try and expand my vocabulary. If I’m reading a book and discover a word I don’t understand, I must look it up. So with my last two EP’s I wanted to have the titles be single, interesting words people wouldn’t necessarily know the meaning of.

To me, Leopardess represented a single solitary powerful female, which was exactly how I felt at the time. It summed up that important point in my life where I knew what I wanted and I was able to take charge. The other title was Infinitude. I challenge you to go look it up. You’ll love what you find.

How was the experience of working with producer Isaac Hasson?

It was fantastic. I had never met him before so I was unsure and a bit nervous going in, but I had faith it would work out. Boy did it ever. We connected immediately and the song, “Lifeline” flowed easily. What a relief!

The opener, “Predator” is quite energetic and feels anthemic. What is the story behind the line, “you think you’re the predator but you’re the prey?”

In that story it’s about a woman playing coy to a man. Letting him think that he’s the one in charge, when we all know who’s really in charge.

I like how you incorporate humor into your video for “Seeing Red.” What was the experience of making that video?

I incorporate humor into everything I do, may I just say. It’s so important to laugh, especially at yourself, that’s what will get you through the tough times.

Making that video was exactly as fun as it looks; it was a blast. I had a director who really understood the message of the song and the vision for the video (Greg Welsh, Toppa-Poppa-Jons Productions). He was so enthusiastic that those of us working on it couldn’t help but be carried away by that incredible energy. Plus, who doesn’t like being silly?

“Who I Am” seems to have a more reflective feel. What message(s) were you trying to convey on that song?

I’m always reluctant to explain too much what the message or the story behind a song is, because the truth is that I want each person to get the message they need out of it, and that could be many different things. But in the interest of not being a pain in the ass, one interpretation could be: hey, this is me, take it or leave it. This is what I need from you in this relationship, hand it over or hit the road.

So far, what insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

If you’re a musician, be a musician. Don’t wait for anyone’s permission, approval, or validation, it ain’t comin’.

What is next for you creatively?

I don’t know, isn’t that what makes life so exciting?! I do know that I’ll be heading out to LA to get in the studio very soon, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of that and to share it with all of you!

-Sem

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Interview: Michael Harren!

Underneath This had the enjoyable experience of interviewing talented musician Michael Harren. To learn more about Michael and his music, please check out michaelharren.com before proceeding to the following interview.

Please describe your trajectory to becoming a musician.

I always loved music when I was a kid and sang in various choirs. I had a kid’s electric organ back then too, I loved to play mini-concerts for my family, mainly just short songs I had figured out by ear. One Christmas when I was around 13 years old, my mom bought the family a piano and I took to it immediately. I taught myself to read music, and then I started taking lessons. My teacher and I didn’t get along so well, so I stopped taking lessons after a couple of years, but I continued playing. I played for the choir at my High School in Tyler, TX, and in a band I had formed with some friends.

After I graduated from High School I had a really hard time deciding to study music. I had gotten the message pretty distinctly that there was little chance of making a living as a musician, so I chose to study Radio Television Production instead. Of course, I wasn’t all that interested in it and wound up flunking out of college during my first year, mostly due to my preferred career as an alcoholic and a drug addict.

I played in a few bands during that time, but it wasn’t till I sobered up in 1994 that I started to take piano seriously. I went back to college and studied piano performance and music composition. First at Houston Community College, then at University of Houston. I pretty quickly became connected with some theaters in Houston and started musical directing, and got some pretty steady gigs as a pianist.

How does being based in Brooklyn influence the music that you make?

I have become involved in some really interesting work here and gotten connected with great people just because of physical proximity. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn have a surprising “small town” feel, which has really served to push me out of the somewhat introverted way I live my life. For example, I met performer and intuitive Victoria Libertore at a coffee shop one block from my apartment, and seeds of Tentative Armor was written in her Archetypal Performance class. She’s also become a spiritual mentor, much of that practice (meditation, channeling etc…) informs my music and inspires new ideas I would not have had.

I’ve found that other musicians here have a spirit of openness and camaraderie I did not expect. People are always sending each other work, and sharing knowledge with one another, where I was expecting the music world to be a bit more competitive. I’ve learned so much from others who are just interested in sharing and being excited about creating new work in new ways.

In what ways do your social and personal identities affect your art?

I want to say that being queer, sober and vegan are the most prominent identities, though I can’t really think of how they affect my art. I have gone through a bit of a journey with how I relate with mainstream gay culture. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gone from immersing myself in gay culture, then rejecting it completely, to where I am now — I feel more relaxed about needing to identify with any specific group. Truth be told, I think that process has really affected and shaped me as an artist where I feel safe to create what I am creating without TOO much concern with where this work lands. I’d be lying if I said I don’t care if this work resonates with anyone else, but I feel in a good enough place as a human to know that it isn’t necessarily my business whether other people like what I’m doing.

You skillfully synthesize aspects of classic musical with more electronic sounds. What inspired that combination?

The music I first fell in love with was what I was listening to as a teenager in the 80’s, I was really fascinated with synthesizers so I would consider that the root of my interest in composing electronic music. My first thought about my inspiration for combining electronics and acoustic instruments was Talk Talk’s 1984 album “It’s My Life.” I distinctly remember the first time I noticed that what I first thought of as a synth based album actually had some sprinklings of acoustic guitar and trumpet and various other instruments. I think it adds an interesting depth and character to the way things sound to combine the precision of electronics with the fallibility and imperfection of acoustic instruments.

One of your most recent singles, “Go” sounds like it could be in a musical. What is the story behind that song?

I was getting ready for my first reading of Tentative Armor at Judson Church. At the time, the show ended with a piece called “Five Tasks of Grief” which is the story of caring for my mom while she was dying of cancer. I wanted the show to end on a more uplifting note, so I wrote this song as an ending. It turned out to be a really heartbreaking song, inspired by a moment I had with my mom where I knew she was really suffering and I wanted to find a way to help her let go. I hope the song has an uplifting quality too in the way that it affirms that we really all are on this earth temporarily and embracing grief is an important part of embracing being alive.

I love the title, “Tentative Armor.” What does it mean?

To me, “Tentative Armor” talks about the idea of wanting to keep my distance others while still craving some kind of intimacy. Some of the stories in the show talk about just that. It could be not waking someone up on the subway who fell asleep on my shoulder, or having an anonymous sexual encounter in order to experience some level of intimacy while still protecting myself.

What was it like performing that show and making the related album?

Performing this material, especially the first time, was terrifying. I had written and composed all of the music in the safety of my apartment, and only a small handful of people had heard any of it. I had limited experience as a solo performer, having spent most of my time behind the piano playing for other people. Accomplishing that though, was really inspiring and motivation, especially considering that it was well received. Each performance of it since then has been a step toward taking bigger risks as a performer.

I am still in the process of finishing the album, and it is another set of firsts for me. The pieces on the album are like old friends by now, but I am mixing the album myself which presents its own sets of challenges. I’m happy with how it is all going, but it’s sloooooow!

How did the related book come about?

My long time friend luke kurtis had the idea for the book. He and I met on a Yoko Ono fan site in the late 90s and have been friends ever since. He came to the performances of the show and told me over coffee one afternoon about his idea to create the book and incorporate some of his photos into the book. I was really thrilled, because I felt it would be the perfect thing to pair with an album. Standing outside of the show, I was afraid the music and spoken word pieces wouldn’t work as audio recordings. The book is really going to pull things together and luke’s design is just beautiful.

What have been some highlights from performing live?

The first reading of the show was so outstanding for me. So many more people came to that performance than I expected and I really had no idea how people would react. I was really thrilled to have such a great response, especially from people who I didn’t know. There was a woman who came up and spoke to me after the show about “Five Tasks of Grief.” She told me that she was caring for her terminally ill Grandfather. She hadn’t had anyone to talk about what she was going through, so she hearing me tell the story about caring for my mom helped her feel like she wasn’t so alone. That was the first moment that I realized that there was some value to others in doing this type of work. I think speaking with that woman was the highlight of the whole process so far.

How has it been working and touring with Sandra Bernhard?

All in all it has been really fun. I was quite intimidated for the first few shows because I had been a fan of hers since probably the late 80’s when I saw Without You I’m Nothing on the big screen. One of the things that surprised me the most was how gracious she is toward me as a fellow artist. Seeing how hard she works is really eye-opening, and lit a fire under my ass. It’s really challenging showing up at different venues not knowing what to expect from the sound, the space, the piano and often not exactly sure what music she is going to want to do. That part of it especially has made me grow quickly as a musician. I feel like I am much more willing to experiment and go with the flow than I was before I started working with her. Knowing how hard she works in every part of her life, I am much less likely to allow myself to be lazy as far as what I need to do in order to get my solo career where I want it.

I love your song, “Invocation.” It seems to combine elements of spoken word. How did you put together that song?

Oh wow, this song has had a long journey. It was rhythmically inspired by a Steve Jansen song called “Captured Through A Quiet Window.” I loved the way that song has a rhythmic spaciousness. I figured out the time signature was something like 11/8 and I set to programming a drum pattern that had the same kind of feel, that’s basically how it sounds now, those big clunky drums. Once I started writing out the string parts I realized that I had made a mistake and actually written the piece in alternating measures of 10/8 and 12/8. Which gave it an even “floatier” feel to me.

A melody emerged out of that and then the different layers of synths. The first time I performed it, it didn’t have any vocals at all, they showed up for the second reading of the show, That middle part with the improvisational singing really feels like channeling to me, when I get out-of-the-way of it anyway. It’s a voice that emerges at the end of the show after all of the various challenges and realizations. the text in the beginning came to me in this moment of auto-writing, and it really is the message of the show to me. Kind of like: “you are here, perfectly ready to move on to the next thing. Let’s go!”

You have performed at Judson Memorial Church, which is known for its social justice work. Have you been involved with activist or other social justice efforts, and if so, which?

I am a pretty outspoken vegan and animal rights advocate, well aware of the fact that I need to put more action into my activism. I like to have vegan food and animal rights info at my shows, and I recently organized a fundraiser for For The Animals Sanctuary. Before I left Texas I covered some issues about the death penalty on my podcast at mikeypod.com. I covered the events leading up the heartbreaking execution of Frances Newton in 2005. I spent some time as an intern at Koinonia Partners in Americus, GA, which was the birthplace of Habitat For Humanity. I have to admit that this question has me feeling uncomfortably aware of how that work is comparatively absent in my life now. I need to open more space in my life for this again.

Did or do you have any other career aspirations outside of music?

I have been teaching music for many years now, but that’s the only other thing outside of music, and I actually teach music. Haha, I guess the answer to that is “no.” 🙂

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Just keep making and performing and doing what you want to do no matter what!

What is next for you creatively?

I am not quite sure. I have a couple of new spoken word pieces that I will be performing at my album release show here in NYC. Those may shape up into another show. I am really interested in gathering my more musical (aka less theatrical) pieces of work and start doing more straight up concert gigs. I’ll be experimenting with what that feels like at the album release show on October 14th as well.

Thanks for the interview!

You’re welcome and thank you for having me!

-Sem

Interview: Brandon Monokian!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Brandon Monokian, an actor, writer and director. Please read more about Brandon in a bio sent by him before proceeding to the interview.

Brandon’s original plays have been presented throughout New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey. They have starred the likes of Christian Coulson (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and Style Network star Briella Calafiore (Jerseylicious, Glam Fairy). Brandon co-created the Page to Stage arts programming for Princeton Public Library (for which they produced a mini documentary highlighting the work) and spoke at their Tedx series about his theatre protest project Revolutionary Readings. Brandon received national attention through Revolutionary Readings, which was used to fight the banning of the book Revolutionary Voices from two New Jersey libraries. Bitch Magazine called Revolutionary Readings “an awesome way to protest the banning of this book.” As an actor he has performed at the Vineyard Playhouse and Luna Stage in readings of The Ride by Carol Lynn Maillard (founding member of the Grammy award-winning Sweet Honey in the Rock). The Ride is a companion piece to In Development, a work he co-created with acclaimed actress Suzzanne Douglas and poet Yorri J. Berry. Brandon also appeared in Obie Award Winning PearlDamour’s eight hour piece How to Build a Forest (The Kitchen), PastTENSE (dir. Robert Woodruff), Love is in The Air (dir. Jeremy Bloom, The Cell), Shlemiel the First (dir. David Gordon, Skirball Center) and Überboy: The Story of a Hero (dir. John Bow, GOCTC). He is a three-time director of The Vagina Monologues for the V Day campaign, helping to raise thousands for various women’s charities. Productions of The Vagina Monologues he has directed have starred Amy Warren (Broadway’sAugust: Osage County), Briella Calafiore (Jerseylicious), Jessica Romano (Glam Fairy), Elaine Bromka (Uncle Buck), Suzzanne Douglas (How Stella Got Her Groove Back, The Parent ‘Hood), Julie Fain Lawrence (Concussion) and Stephaine Roth Haberle (Phaedra Backwards). For more information, please visit http://www.brandonmakestheatre.com and twitter @brandonmonokian

‘Peter Pan is Dead’ the graphic novel of the play by Brandon with art by Sara Sciabbarrasi is on sale now. CLICK HERE to order! For tickets to the Philadelphia Fringe production of the play running September 6 – 21 CLICK HERE.

brandonmheadshot

How did you become inspired to pursue a career in the arts?

I saw Les Misérables on Broadway when I was six (I begged my parents to take me after being obsessed with the cast album). I saw a young Lacey Chabert (of Mean Girls and Party of Five fame) on stage and thought “if this kid my age can do this, so can I.” Thanks, Lacey Chabert!

Who and which forces have been most influential along your path?

My parents, coffee and wine. Also, I’ve been lucky to have a few incredible artists mentor me for some time after I graduated college. Suzzanne Douglas from How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Elaine Bromka from Uncle Buck and Julie Fain Lawrence from Concussion have all taught me more post graduation than was possible to learn in a classroom setting. I’m forever grateful they took time to both challenge and nurture me.

How do your social and personal identities affect your work?

My work is so personal to me, and since my social identities and personal experiences shape who I am, they are of course reflected in my work. When I was younger I got picked on a lot… “loser, worthless, faggot”, I’ve been called it all. Had things thrown at me, even. Growing up was rough in that respect, but as an adult I rarely have had to deal with any of that; but the reality is if I wasn’t living in this year, in a fairly liberal location, my adult experience would be very different. So I remember my experiences, pay attention to those of others and I take action in my words, my work, my vote, and where I spend my money.

Peter Pan is Dead

With both “Grimm Women” and “Peter Pan is Dead” you have used fairy tales as a motif. Why this theme?

I’m interested in the fact that the source material for these plays (Brother’s Grimm fairy tales and Peter Pan) are substantially darker than the versions we are fed as children. I think part of me felt cheated when I found this out. We’ve been programmed for a happy ending and relatively smooth journey, when that isn’t life, and it also isn’t these stories.

Peter Pan is Dead graphic novel preview 1

What was it like modernizing Ovid’s work for your play “echo, narcissus, narcissus, echo”?

I think Ovid’s original poem about Echo and Narcissus may be the most beautiful thing ever written. echo, narcissus, narcissus, echo is my darkest, most personal work because I saw myself in both of those characters simultaneously. Maybe because I’m a Gemini.

To date, what has been the most surprising reaction to your writing?

Someone was audibly sobbing in the audience during one of the performances of echo, narcissus, narcissus, echo. I’m talking a good ol’ ugly cry. It was flattering but it also made me nervous.

How has it been alternating among writing, directing, and acting? What are the similarities and differences among the three?

Best case scenario, the similarity is that you are creating something in a collaborative environment. Sometimes when you are acting, what you are doing on stage is more dictated to you than collaboration, but for the most part I’ve felt like my ideas about the characters I’ve played have been valued. With directing it’s 100% knowing how to communicate with people in whatever way they will listen best, which is completely different for everyone. You have to be good at reading people so you know how to bring out what you want from them. The most difficult thing about directing is dealing with people’s egos. I come from the Kelly Cutrone mindset of “if you have to cry, go outside” but most actors aren’t familiar with that concept. They are fragile beings, so you have to treat them like Precious Moments half the time, which frankly can be tiring, but that’s what end of the day red wine is for. Writing for me is pure emotion and instinct. I write drunk and edit sober. I’ve learned to write with specific people in mind, because it makes the characters more textured. When I first wrote Grimm Women, the Little Red Riding Hood character was a really dark, dreary part. When we got Briella from Jerseylicious to sign on, I re-wrote it and she became a really cool, edgy, pot smoking train wreck.

Which has been your favorite character to write, direct, and portray so far? Why?

Credit: Kevin Monko

Credit: Kevin Monko

Write: Adrestia, the goddess of revenge in Peter Pan is Dead, because she takes action where others won’t.

Direct: Eurydice in Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Ovid’s myth because she was so complex and poetic.

Portray: I was in an eight our performance art piece called How to Build a Forest (you can see the whole thing sped up to six minutes here: http://vimeo.com/32998219 ), so not necessarily the character, but the whole experience was my favorite because it was a group of people working together to create something truly epic. The ego free spirit everyone approached the work with was inspiring and since it was early in my career, set a great tone for me on how to behave in future experiences.

How was it directing a reading of Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology?

We did that to protest the fact that the book had been banned in two libraries. We called the performance Revolutionary Readings. At the time I had no idea what I was doing. I was just young and pissed off that this book was banned in both my school and public library. In the beginning of the process it was me, my partner in crime Victoria Fear, and a group of young, passionate, equally pissed off theatre artists just raising our voices in the town square, so to speak. At first we were just begging people to let us come and perform this work as a form of protest to this censorship, which we knew was a great injustice. We went from pleading to perform in small cafes, to getting invited to places like Rutgers University, Princeton Public Library and different Library conferences. News vans showed up to my parent’s house unannounced, I was getting called for interviews with different papers, and at one point for a brief moment was given a publicist. What we were doing was very controversial, and certainly a lot of people just wished we would shut up and go away, but we had a lot of people leave the performances in tears over the work because they were touched so deeply by it, which really spoke to why the material should not have been banned. I had just graduated college and couldn’t have foreseen the magnitude to which the project would grow. It was a trial by fire for me and so many involved. I gave a Tedx talk about it at the Princeton Public Library some time after the initial explosion of controversy. You can watch it here: http://youtu.be/w1X7TX4i1ew

Page to Stage series

What inspired you to co-found “Page to Stage” with Janie Hermann and how is it going so far?

Janie Hermann and the Princeton Public Library had us doing a performance of Revolutionary Readings as a part of their banned book week. It was around that time I got to see the power of literature being adapted for the stage. We developed the series to promote literacy by presenting theatrical adaptations of written works in an animated, physical way. It lasted for three years and it was one of the best experiences of my professional career. Princeton Public Library produced a really beautiful mini documentary about Page to Stage which you can see here: http://vimeo.com/57147953

What was it like being part of The Laramie Project and The Vagina Monologues? Relatedly, how do you perceive theatre as being part of social justice?

Those pieces have such history, meaning and weight to them, and it was an honor and a humbling experience to be involved in them. I used to think theatre was a way of making things up, but now see it as a vehicle in which to tell the truth. We can see ourselves in the characters and the stories on stage, and by seeing ourselves we are able to reflect and change as people, which is how all social change begins.

I enjoy your commercials for Hallmark. One seems to represent themes regarding adolescence, which is a time period you seem to focus on in that work. What is it about this era of life that is compelling?

Thank you! It’s so interesting you bring that up because I never thought of those commercials that way, but that is a theme prevalent in my other work. We were just trying to sell a product, but also create something fun that people would laugh at.

Brandon Monokian

In what ways is your work feminist?

I’m a three time director of The Vagina Monologues, which is the most globally recognizable feminist theatre piece. By doing that show we were able to raise a lot of money for various women’s charities, as well create awareness and a dialogue about the horrific sexual and physical violence women have suffered globally and in our own back yards. I’m absolutely a feminist, but I’m not sure I would describe my body of work as a whole as feminist or not feminist, it’s more just a reflection of my life experiences.

Which type of music have inspired you to make other types of art?

Music inspires me to write. I know you aren’t supposed to list modern, “trendy” acts as inspiration, but fuck it, Lana Del Rey very much inspired echo, narcissus, narcissus, echo and Peter Pan is Dead. I wrote them at the same time, drunk on red wine, while listening to Young and Beautiful on repeat.

What insights would you like to share with aspiring writers?

I was in a Gen Ed level writing course in college, and we had to write essays each week. Every time we handed one in, the teacher (a writer by the name of Jess Row) would pick one essay, black out the name, and make copies of it for the whole class to correct. He picked my essay every week except one. At first I was mortified. Then someone told me that he wouldn’t have picked mine (and picked mine so often!) if there wasn’t anything there to bring out of it. The truth is I could have been doing a lot better, but I was 18 years old, and didn’t give a fuck about anything. So by the end of that experience, I was motivated to give a fuck and represent myself in the way I wanted to be perceived.

What is next for you creatively?

I’ve worked with artist Sara Sciabbarrasi on creating a graphic novel of the Peter Pan is Dead script which you can order online now. I’d like to start concentrating on multi-disciplinary work. I like the idea of bringing things together that people don’t think necessarily belong together… like theatre and comic books. So creatively, much more of that. The graphic novel is on sale here: http://peterpanisdead.storenvy.com/products/9117253-peter-pan-is-dead-graphic-novel

Peter Pan is Dead graphic novel preview 2

I also have a product line of “wine-cessories” called Cork & Wood which I’m going to be expanding on substantially this coming year. They’re on sale here: http://corkandwood.storenvy.com/

-Sem

Interview: Rony Tennenbaum!

Underneath This just had the inspiring and enjoyable experience of interviewing Rony Tennenbaum, an out and outspoken gay designing jeweler striving to make a difference in and for his community. Please read more about Rony (adapted from a press release bio) before proceeding to the interview.

Rony has long served the LGBTQ+ community regardless of the law, carving the hopes and dreams of same-sex couples in gold and diamonds, and sending a strong message of inclusiveness to the LGBTQ+ community.

What makes Rony particularly current and newsworthy is his ongoing contribution to the LGBTQ+ community and how he positioned himself as a recognized and sought-after authority on LGBT wedding jewelry fashion and protocol.

As we continue to celebrate the consistent string of victories in the legalization of gay marriage, more mainstream stores are calling upon his expertise to break into the LGBTQ+ wedding market. Why? Because they want someone who assimilates with that community and can provide valuable “insider” information about the culture and ethos of an audience they know little about.

Though these retailers recognize the need for the niche, most of them do not know how to approach it.  In the optic of remaining politically correct and genuine in their marketing initiative and intention, they seek Rony’s expert understanding in the culture, tastes and needs of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the jewelry and diamond worlds.

What makes Rony stand out from the rest of the jewelry designers looking to capitalize on the current momentum created by the continuing marriage equality victories, is the fact that not only is he part of that community (he has been with his husband for 21 years); but he also comes with the whole package: the trendy high-end (yet affordable) Jewelry collection, the style & fashion, and the knowledge (education/tutorial).

Moreover, Rony doesn’t just ship his collection to be added to bridal cases across the country, he actually takes the time to visit the many stores carrying his brand to EDUCATE both consumers and retailers about the new options in wedding jewelry etiquette and consults about making educated purchases.  Often forgotten is the fact that gay couples can feel uncomfortable shopping at stores for jewelry together because they don’t really know if it’s a store that will frown upon it. Every store carrying Rony’s brand, which welcomes gay and straight couples, strive to provide a comfortable location for people to shop regardless of sexual orientation.

What’s more, unlike most jewelry designers whose collection speaks explicitly to the LGBTQ+ community, Rony’s designs go beyond the use of “stereotypical rainbows and triangles,” tweaking traditional bands and diamond rings in stylishly subdued ways, and keeping social and eco-responsibilities as the driving force in his work.

More than a designer, Rony understands the need in educating a generation of retailers as well as consumers who are facing new traditions and etiquette.  LGBTQ+ couples have few societal scripts to follow and thus find themselves in uncharted waters.

Yet so are most of these mainstream retailers – from high-end stores in the likes of Tiffany’s, to department stores (Macy’s) and local mom & pops – who are now gaining access into this ever-growing LGBTQ+ demographic. Meanwhile, with several states across the country now allowing gay marriage, same-sex couples are increasingly putting a ring on it!

To date, 19 states plus Washington, D.C. have passed marriage equality laws and judges in an additional 12 states have issued rulings in favor of marriage equality. As  the gay marriage legalization is continuing to garner attention both nationally and globally, and the new mores are being written by the LGBTQ+ communities, “visionary” retailers looking to include same-sex couples as part of their all-inclusive accepted family of consumers, have been calling upon Rony’s expertise.

In June of last year, Seattle-based Ben Bridge Jeweler, owned by Warren Buffett’s holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc., began carrying jewelry by Rony. In April, Rogers & Hollands –  one of the largest family owned jewelry chains in the country – added Rony’s same-sex bridal jewelry to its Chicago-area stores.  Now Rony’s presence extends nationwide including Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Florida, Washington, California, Illinois, and Virginia.

In addition, Rony is continuously giving back to his own community. On top of lending his expert voice to LoveIncmag.com, and EQL Magazine; he is as well making a difference by committing to philanthropic initiatives. His collection called LVOE LIFE is about supporting bullied and troubled teenagers.  The concept behind the charity designed collection is to teach teenagers to “Love Their Life”.

At the helm of his brand, Rony is using his expertise and message behind his jewelry to be in the vanguard of a new generation of jewelry consumers, and taking with him any forerunners who wish to join forces with him and his message on the journey.

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Please describe your path to becoming a designer.

I have always been fascinated with jewelry. My mom wore lots of jewelry when I was growing up and I always loved being a part of her treasure hunts for new interesting pieces. About 25 years ago, I landed a job as a data entry clerk in a large jewelry manufacturing company in NYC and I was captivated with the process of making jewelry. I loved everything about it from the designing, to the metals used (such as gold and platinum), to the gemstones (color stones or diamonds). Everything about the jewelry just fascinated me!

I started taking courses to better understand the product I was working with. I studied the manufacturing process, diamonds, design and eventually marketing and sales. I loved the process a design took from the drawing table to becoming a beautiful ring or necklace, and then putting together the story behind it.

It was later on, while working in another jewelry company, that I faced my first customer and enjoyed the interaction with them. Learning about their needs and likes and being able to create something for them to wear based on these specifications. Finally it was working with couples getting engaged (and married), and witnessing the enjoyment they possessed in talking about their future rings that really got me fascinated with designing wedding jewelry.

You have been characterized as “out” and “outspoken.” Please expand upon what those adjectives mean to you.

I am very proud at being an openly gay man. I grew up in a very sheltered environment that did not nurture gayness or freedom to be who you are. I had to find my own path. Today I am thrilled that I am able to live the life I could only have dreamed of growing up. To me being “out” is being free.

I speak my mind and believe that there is a vast array of opinions out there about the LGBT community. Educating ignorant ideas and beliefs is how I believe we will all eventually be able to live in harmony. I speak up and proudly address how I see the norm should be. While I did not have many role models who stood up and spoke their mind while I was growing up, I only hope my ideas and thoughts will inspire new generations to be proud of who they are, and that they can become whatever they want.

How do your social and cultural identities affect what you make?

About 10 years ago when you Googled the words “gay” and “jewelry” all you got were rainbows and triangles and gaudy looking jewelry. I used to say it looked like what a straight person thinks a gay person wants to wear. Though I find nothing wrong with rainbows, or triangles, I don’t know if any of my friends who would want to wear those designs as wedding rings. I set out to design a collection of classy more elegant and timeless pieces of jewelry that would be much more suitable for such personal and intimate items like an engagement ring or wedding band. My collections stem from sentiment and not from symbolism as triangles.

For example, when I designed my LVOE (pronounced the letters L-V-O-E), the idea behind it was that love is love, no matter how you spell it. Everyone sees the LOVE spelt in the 4 letters, and people ask me for the “love” rings. But the deeper definition is that Love is Love, No Matter Who the Two People are, and I find that to be a powerful statement.

lvoe_pave setHow do you know when a design feels right?

Depends on what you call “right.” To me, all my designs feel right for someone. Though I may design several dozen pieces in a collection, there are hundreds of thousands of couples out there choosing rings that fit them. I think each ring I create is right for someone. As in fashion, jewelry can be low-key and conservative and can be fashion driven and contemporary. I never think of a ring as right or wrong. To me the feeling I get when I first sketch a ring is excitement, I have a vision. It is only when it is complete, set with diamonds in gold, that’s when I think to myself, “Nice. But would I wear this,” and if the answer is YES, then I know I did it right.

What were some inspirations for making your same- sex wedding/anniversary ring collections available online?

I am always inspired by love and the commitment two people have towards one another and their long-lasting relationship. I believe everyone has an equal right to love and live with the person of their choice, regardless of sexual orientation. That love and devotion inspires me.

I mentioned my collection LVOE earlier, which represents Love Is Love. Another one of my collections called “TIE THE KNOT” is made of a beautiful golden nautical knot. The inspiration is pretty clear, couples love the sentiment of tying the knot with a symbol of gold, and the fact that they get matching or similar Knot rings makes it a special design for them. It is probably one of my best-selling collections for both lesbian and gay couples alike.

Another collection called “BRICKS” has a beautiful line of blocks lining the ring down the center. The Bricks collection is inspired by the building blocks of every relationship. Couples relate. Relationships are built one block at a time and can take years to build. It’s a strong sentiment that resonates with couples.

From your perspective, how do matrimony experiences differ for heterosexual and cisgender couples compared to LGBTQ+ couples?

I believe the experience of falling in love with someone of the same gender and building a life together does not differ no matter what the sexual orientation of the couple is. The emotion of meeting someone who makes your heart beat faster is universal. I don’t find the genders of a couple to be the differences that make any part of the marriage experience different from couple to couple.

I have spent the last 21 years with the man I love. Both our relationship and the way our household is run are as any relationship. I find that it is the way the couple interacts inside their relationship and towards the outside world that gives a relationship its strength and not their label “gay, “lesbian”, “straight”, “cisgender”, “heterosexual” etc.

What do you think of the current marriage equality movement in the US? In what ways can the movement be amplified?

Marriage equality laws are long overdue in this country. I find the movement is extraordinary and a pillar of Human rights, not just LGBT rights. No one person or institution should have the right to dictate who another human being should love or wed. I find that as the movement gains momentum, we will see more tolerance and a non issue of the matter.

However, I am a huge believer in education. Part of what I do today is travel around the country and talk to groups about these new social trends and etiquettes that are growing out of the marriage equality movement. As I talk with people, and this is not just retailers who are interested in carrying LGBT wedding ring collections in their stores (which of its own is a wonderful thing to witness), I also talk to groups of the LGBT community.

It is amazing how many questions and confused couples I am faced with who know they now have the right to marry, but do not know what they should or can do now that it’s here. They are stumped on the etiquettes within the community when it comes to proposals, weddings, rings etc. Of course I speak from the perspective of a jeweler, but I have witnessed questions such as women asking “Do I propose to my girlfriend?”, “Do we both buy engagement rings”, “Do we wear matching rings?” and the list goes on and on.

That shows me there are etiquettes that are still being considered and traditions that are in the making. It is education that opens people’s eyes to how vast this impacts our lives. It doesn’t end with “Ban lifted. Get Married.”

I commend you for purposefully using EcoGold, a greener substance. What motivated that decision-making process?

Gold is one of the most valuable recyclable materials there is, and there is so much existing gold in the world that is being reused. The thought is why purchase additional gold from mines, when there is perfectly ample supply of existing material that can be recycled.

I love the idea of empowering someone to be environmentally conscious or at least aware that they contribute even the slightest to a better world. It is my little gift to them.

What has been the most surprising reaction to your creative work?

Many years ago I was commissioned to design a surprise engagement ring by one partner for her girlfriend, based on a magazine image. I created a ring very similar to this girl’s dream photo, but when the ring was complete, I did not care for it. I made some excuse and told her something went wrong and I needed to remake the ring. A week later, the new ring was ready and I still didn’t like it, but there was no time for another remake, the couple was heading west the next day where the proposal was going to take place.   With a heavy heart I handed the ring over and for three days I dreaded hearing the phone ring.

On the third day, the phone rings a little after midnight. I could barely make out what the voice of a sobbing woman was saying to me. When she finally took a breath, she told me her name and though I don’t know her, her now fiancé just proposed to her with the most “breathtaking” ring she ever saw in her life. She said she had to call and thank me, even before she called her parents. I learned to never under-estimate what people appreciate in jewelry.

Who have been your most meaningful inspirations?

Warren Buffet once said: “A person is sitting in the shade today, because someone thought of planting a seed a while ago.” I love that. I can only hope that my teachings, and designs and ideas of an equal society will plant seeds in people’s minds that will encourage a better life for future generations.

What insights do you have for aspiring designers?

Stick with it. I find that if you have a good idea and are determined, you will succeed. I think setting goals are important. People who have a passion for what they are doing and push forward are usually very successful. And most important, don’t let anyone persuade you off your course.

On which projects are you working next?

 I never sit still. I have many things in the works at the moment. Besides the launch of several new collections, I am traveling all over the country and enjoy lecturing to the LGBT community on “The New Etiquettes of the Rainbow” and on “Buying Diamonds in the Age of Equality”, both from my “Rony Talks” series. I love the interaction with people.

I am also working on a few exciting ventures that I am not yet ready to talk about, but I guarantee you will be seeing a lot more Rony Tennenbaum in the months and years to come.

-Sem

Interview: Marina Rice Bader!

Underneath This had the enjoyable experience of interviewing writer/director Marina Rice Bader. Please read more about Marina (adapted from a press release) and her latest film, Anatomy of a Love Seen, before proceeding to the interview.

Marina (Executive Producer of Elena UndoneA Perfect Ending) is releasing her feature length directorial debut Anatomy of a Love Seen as a $5 digital rental on Vimeo via the film’s website http://www.anatomyofaloveseen.com  Marina has given the film its worldwide release as a streaming rental, breaking outside of and bypassing the traditional Hollywood distribution channels. Anatomy of a Love Seen  is easily and available and affordable for fans to view around the world on any Internet-capable device. Additionally, subtitled versions for a number of languages will also be made available including Spanish, Portuguese, French and German.

In the age of YouTube and viral marketing campaigns, it is becoming less uncommon for a feature to be completely digitally released; however, it is quite unusual for a movie to be made available online immediately after a festival premiere, as this film has following the recent 32nd Annual Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival. Yet in keeping with the “do-it-her-way-ethos”, Marina was intent on the idea of exploring alternative distribution options in order to engage and connect directly with her fans, and get the film out to as many people as possible.

Following in the footsteps of filmmakers such as Louis CK and Joss Whedon who have taken on distribution themselves, Marina isn’t the first filmmaker to the direct-distribution game; but she is one of the first ever out filmmakers to offer LGBTQ+ audiences around the world and cinephiles alike a lesbian themed feature film as a low-cost digital release immediately after its first festival premiere.

As the driving force behind Soul Kiss Films, her independent film company, Marina’s artistic direction is focused on one goal:  to create evocative, entertaining, and compelling movies by women, for women, and about women.  Indeed, she is successfully planting the seeds to do just that with Anatomy of a Love Seen, the forthcoming Raven’s Touch, and a new film set to shoot in December.

Anatomy of a Love Seen stars Hollywood newcomers Sharon Hinnendael, Jill Evyn and Constance Brenneman.  This film within a film explores love in all its painful and messy glory.  Six months ago, Zoe and Mal fell for each other while filming a love scene, which led to an intense, whirlwind affair, followed by a devastating breakup. Soon after their split, things get complicated when the two have to meet on set once more to re-shoot that fateful sequence.

Filmed in five days, this improvised movie based on Marina’s story, characters and outline fulfilled her desire to create a very organic and visceral experience.  Anatomy of a Love Seen was made on a micro-budget, but that hasn’t stopped a huge online buzz. For a preview of the film, you can view the trailer (for mature audiences), which has already had 780,000 views, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWqQregDD_A

ANATOMY OF A LOVE SEEN IS NOW STREAMING WORLDWIDE AT:  http://anatomyofaloveseen.com/

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What was the moment in which you realized you wanted to work in film?

It was a long series of moments in my life that led me to where I am now and my decision to work in film. It probably goes back to elementary school in one way or another, though it never had a name. I lived my life as a movie, always coming up with new scenarios to play out in my head. This stayed with me my whole life, and I still do it. It wasn’t until I was in my 50s that I found the confidence to actually jump in and pursue my dream, corny as that sounds. I’m a big believer in “it’s never too late.”

Who and what have been the most significant creative influences?

Movies! I adore leaving the theater or my living room to enter the world created for me. My favorite films have a way of taking me somewhere I’ve never been before. The Princess Bride to a land of swordplay, giants and true love. Lord of the Rings to a world of elves, middle earth and the epic battle between good and evil. Connie & Carla to the stage of song, dance, drag and just plain fun. Aliens to the outer reaches of space and the most badass hero of all, Ellen Ripley.

From your perspective, has there been progress, regression, or both regarding depiction of LGBTQ+ individuals in the media?

I think there’s been a steady rate of progress, and certainly there are many wonderful characters now living on prime time and cable. We could use more films with well-rounded LGBTQ+ characters, and I hope in some way I’m helping to address that issue.

You are debuting as a director with “Anatomy of a Love Seen.” What have been some rewarding and challenging moments of being in the director’s seat?

I think my biggest reward so far has been actually getting through the many challenges of creating a film from start to finish. I take on a bit of the producer role as well, in that I love putting all the pieces together. I had my hands on every part of the film, which was fantastic. Working with my amazing cast and crew was incredibly rewarding – every day they blew me away with their dedication and passion. Then there’s sitting with an audience, watching your film on the big screen…that’s pretty cool.

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This film has been released internationally streaming online. How did you make this decision?

I wanted to try something different this time – to see if I could make the film accessible to the entire world at the same time – to include everyone. As of this moment Anatomy of a Love Seen has been viewed in 70 countries – how mind blowing is that? Everywhere from Canada to Costa Rica, Norway to New Zealand, and the film is available in five languages with more coming. Now it’s a matter of getting the word out there! We are streaming everywhere right now: http://anatomyofaloveseen.com/

How do you see technology continuing to influence film-making?

Technology is not my area, but I do see it continuing to move in the same direction, which levels the playing field a bit by allowing filmmakers to create and release content more easily.

In some ways, the film seems meta, in the sense of showing a movie within a movie. How were you able to capture this on screen?

Now that was interesting! Our working crew played the movie crew, the actors were in character at all times, and everything was fair game. This was a two-camera shoot, so you never knew if B camera was rolling on behind-the-scenes (some of which ended up in the film.) I think Kieran, my first AD, had it the hardest. He was my right hand on the set and the one responsible for keeping us on schedule, making sure we got all of our shots, but was also playing a real character in the film, with dialogue! He rocked it though…and he’s absolutely adorable in the film.

How do you choose the music that is included in the films?

We had a wonderful composer from The UK named Thom Robson who created our original score – he’s one to watch out for. Then we were lucky enough to find Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah Smith to provide two songs, which rounded us out. Can’t wait for the US to discover her – we created a music video with Sarah for our film, which has gotten rave reviews – you can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t34zwvEekeA

Which projects are you working on next?

“Raven’s touch”, starring Dreya Weber and Traci Dinwiddie, is going through the final edit and should be ready to go this fall. I’m also in the beginning stages of a project that will shoot at the end of this year – the details are under wraps right now. Then in the fall of 2015 I’m shooting one of my favorite stories called “Red Sky Theater” in Arizona. This one’s been in my heart for a long time and I can’t wait to get started!

What insights do you have for aspiring filmmakers?

Well there are a thousand possible answers to this question, but the best tangible piece of advice I can think of is this: do something that really scares you, and I mean something that makes you want to cry just thinking about it. Terrified of snakes – go hold one at a pet store. Afraid of the dark – go spelunking in a deep dank cave. Terrified of heights – go ziplining. Once you conquer that fear, then make a movie, because to survive in this world you must be fearless!

-Sem

Interview: Laura Erickson-Schroth about “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves!”

Underneath This had the informative and enjoyable experience of interviewing Laura Erickson-Schroth, psychiatrist and editor of the groundbreaking, “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves,” a compendium featuring an introduction by Jennifer Finney Boylan contributors from trans* and cisgender activists, theorists, authors, educators, artists, and health professionals.

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What were some experiences that inspired the idea for “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves?”

I grew up with the book Our Bodies, Ourselves on our shelf at home. It was something that answered a lot of the questions I had about bodies and sexuality. It was put together by women in Boston in the late 60’s, at a time when most physicians were male, and the women were turning to one another for information they needed. As I got older and met more and more trans people, I realized that in some ways they were in a similar position to those women – they were coming into contact with providers who weren’t as educated as they should be about trans health. I thought it would be great to create something like Our Bodies, Ourselves, written by trans people, for trans people.

What was the editing process like?

It was multi-layered. For each chapter, there were on average 10-15 advisers who read through and provided comments to help the authors shape the chapter. We also held an “editing weekend” where about 20 of us worked in small groups to make sure that the book was heading in the right direction. It was a lot of fun to get so many people together around a common goal.

How were the contributors and reviewers selected?

Chapter authors and reviewers were chosen based on their experience and expertise in the area. We’re really proud to have found great trans health providers, academics, lawyers, activists, and so many others to make the book what it is.

What was the process of choosing the 6 sections to focus on in the text?

The 6 sections really came together organically. We started deciding what topics were broad enough to warrant full chapters, and saw that they seemed to fall into sections.

How has your own professional work informed the content of “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves?”

Part of the reason I decided to start this project was that I was doing rotations in medical school on trans health and there seemed to be this incredible divide between trans people and providers. There was a lot of history of gatekeeping, and a lot of ignorance about trans people and trans health. I thought that a byproduct of trans people teaching each other about these issues could be that providers would read what they wrote, and learn more about trans communities.

If you wanted a reader to take one overall message away from reading this unique text, what would that be?

I think the most important take-away is that trans communities are extremely diverse. They’re made up of people from every background you can think of.

So far, have there been any surprising reactions to “Trans Bodies, Trans Selves” from the press, family, and/or friends?

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People are most surprised by how big it is! It’s 650 pages long, and 3.5 pounds. Which means it represents that voices of many, many people.

What has been the response from trans* communities?

We’ve had great responses from both trans communities and friends, family, and providers. There were something like 500 people somehow involved in the project, and everyone is really excited to see their stories and ideas in print.

Which projects are you working on next?

I just started a fellowship at Columbia University Medical Center. Part of the fellowship is learning about public psychiatry, which includes the recovery model of mental illness, and systems like Medicaid, housing, and supported employment. The other part of the fellowship is through the LGBT Initiative at Columbia, which has goals of improving research, clinical work, education, and policy around LGBT issues.

What insights do you have for aspiring writers/editors?

If you have the luxury, do things that are meaningful to you. It makes late nights, copyediting, and deadlines worthwhile.

-Sem

Interview: Jessy Spino of Girl Fry!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Jessy Spino of the talented band Girl Fry. Please read a brief bio about Jessy written by Jeremy Porter.

Jessica Spino (born Jessica Espinoza) is an American and Brazilian musician and songwriter. She co-founded the band Maria Sweet at the dawn of her musical career and later went on to found the melodic punk band Girl Fry. Her musical stylings are influenced by the wide variety of culture she was exposed to growing up in southern California, Brazil, and Ecuador. Spino has shared stages with a wide array of artists including Killola, Tsar, Anus Kings, Evertheory, The Walking Toxins and Sangre, and has achieved recognition for completing Maria Sweets first tour solo when the rest of the band had to cancel. She is also known for often including traditional folk instruments in her compositions and performances. As of July 2014, she has three official releases including an EP and Album with Maria Sweet, and an EP for Girl Fry – with a new album slated to be released in Q3 2014.

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Please describe your path to becoming musicians.

Well, Alex was born into a musical family and had access to every kind of instrument you can imagine. I (Jess) would sing in church. I played piano as a youngin’, and started guitar at age 14. I sorta realized that this was what I wanted to do once I left high school. It took YEARS to convince Alex to start a band with me. But she couldn’t until after Art School. And so Girl Fry started a little while after she graduated.

From your perspective, how are female-bodied people treated and viewed within punk and pop circles these days?

I was actually talking about this tonight with a friend. About how I didn’t expect to be asked such substantial questions in our first band interview. I joked, “I should be showing some skin, not doing an thoughtful Q&A’s!” and that sort of answers the question itself. When outside of radical spaces that try to create a safe environment, I see some transphobia and objectification, yes. However, my biggest pet peeve in the industry is that FAAB’s (female assigned at birth) are often pitted against one one another. Even amongst the band members themselves. It’s the There Can Only Be One attitude.

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So far, what has been some highlights of performing live?

The highlights of this past year for Girl Fry have been getting to perform more unplugged, acoustic sets. This really challenged our performance skills, and has made us into better musicians. We all have become so much more aware of each other’s cue’s and styles.

How do the three of you collaborate to make music?

For so long it had just been Alex and I (Jess), much of our collaboration is with rhythm and the vocal interpretation of each song. Sometimes Alex contributes to writing and guitar. Most of the time, I write a song on guitar/Charango, put it to lyrics, and take it to Ally (drummer) and Alex (bassist/rhythm guitarist) for further development.

What is one quality that makes you distinct from other artists who may be sonically similar?

I tend to write verbose songs, and try to make lyrics melodic whenever I can, even if that means sacrificing rhyme or meter. As for Alex, you might notice in our upcoming album, she has laid down some very busy bass patterns.

Who and what have been your most significant creative influences?

My best buddy, from whom I have written dozens of songs. My dog, for whom I wrote many songs in my previous project, Maria Sweet. I take a lot out of my favorite sci-fi books and television shows: Star Trek, BSG, The Sphere.

Whom do you most admire musically?

When I was younger: Metric, Tegan and Sara, Dresden Dolls, Evanescence. More recently, Against Me!, The Stranglers, The Lunachicks, Los Hermanos, even bands like Avatasia, Dream Theater, Minds Eye, Kamelot, the list goes on. Alex is more on the rockabilly, roots hardcore, and electronica side, but she isn’t here so I’ll just mention Henry Rollins, Vandals, The Heavy, The Circle Jerks, Above and Beyond and that list is longer than mine.

I love your song, “Just Wondrin’” off The Pottymouth EP. You have so well blended melody with a punk spirit! How did you do it? 🙂

I love punk, and I love a good melody. I’ve always found the two to fit together nicely. A favorite example of this is Subway by the Lunachicks.

Your song, “Memo” off the same album seems quite confessional (e.g., “Unload the weapon before calling/And my parachute works before falling) What is the story behind that song?

It’s about descending into madness. Trying to have all your ducks lines up, but everything falls apart at ignition.

“Surivalov” sounds somewhat different stylistically. What is the meaning of this song?

My goal was to use the Charango more traditionally. The first song I had ever heard Charango being used is this classic titled Ojos Azules. Some of these classic renditions from the Andean region can have a super upbeat energetic sound, many of them change tempo, this one in particular has a sadder theme. I was trying to follow those themes to the best of my ability, but it turned into something different. Maybe I was missing some flute? I love that song, even though playing it makes me sad.

Which songs have you or would you like to cover?

A friend once told me that the best songs to cover are songs outside one’s genre. I would love to cover Abba. In the past, I have covered Black Sheep by Metric, Have to Drive by Amanda Palmer, Bullet by the Misfits for live performances. Most of them were at an open mic somewhere, so there aren’t any vids of it, thank goodness.

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What has been the most surprising reaction to your music so far?

At the Viper Room, I performed a cryptic, naughty song that someone totally picked up on. They laughed and pointed directly at me.

On what projects are you working on next?

We have a 10 date tour on the west coast to promote our upcoming album. You can see our tour dates here: http://www.girlfry.com/shows. The album should be coming out soon after the tour.. We are recording at ATM Studios in Burbank with our producers Victor Flores and Joe Calderon: http://www.atmstudios.com.

Lastly, In our spare time Alex and I have been working on a the studio’s Electronica side project called Dark World. You can hear our progress at https://soundcloud.com/art-thru-dark-records/bruja.

It’s been a busy year!

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

You are an asset, and your time is valuable. And to Women, Feminine-Identified Persons, Queers: Keep being awesome. The music industry needs more of you.

-Sem